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account the actors, whose regular profession it was to exhibit the Atellane Fables, stood exempt, as privileged persons, from the infamy attached to other theatrical artists, namely, exclusion from the tribes, and likewise enjoyed an immunity from military service.
Moreover the Romans had their own Mimes. The unlatin name of these little pieces certainly seems to imply an affinity to the Greek Mimes; but in their form they differed considerably from these, and doubtless they had local truth of manners, and the matter was not borrowed from Greek exhibitions.
It is singular, that Italy has possessed from of old the gift of a very amusing though somewhat rude buffoonery, in extemporaneous speeches and songs with accompanying antics, though it has seldom been coupled with genuine dramatic taste. The latter assertion might easily be justified by examination of what has been achieved in that country in the higher departments of the Drama down to the most recent times. The former might be substantiated by many characteristic traits, which at present would carry us too far from our subject into the Saturnalia and the like. Even of the wit which prevails in the speeches of Pasquino and Marforio, and the well-aimed popular satire on events of the day, many vestiges may be found even in the times of the emperors, who were not generally favourable to such liberties. More to our present purpose is the conjecture, that in the Mimes and Atellane Fables we perhaps have the earliest germ of the Commedia dell'Arte, of the improvisatory farce with standing masks. A striking affinity between these and the Atellanes appears in the employment of dialects to produce a droll effect. But how would Harlequin and Pulcinello be astonished to learn that they descend in a straight line from the buffoons of the old Romans, nay, of the Oscans ! How merrily would they thank the antiquarian who should trace their glorious genealogical tree to such a root! From the Greek vase-paintings, we know that there belonged to the grotesque masks of the Old Comedy a garb very much resembling theirs : long trousers, and a doublet with sleeves, articles of dress otherwise strange both to Greeks and Romans. To this day, Zanni is one of Harlequin's names; and Sannio in the Latin farces was the name of a buffoon, who, as ancient writers testify, had his head shorn, and wore a dress pieced together out of gay party-coloured patches. The very image and likeness of Pulcinello is said to have been found among the fresco-paintings of Pompeii. If he derives his extraction originally from Atella, he has his local habitation still pretty much in the old land of his nativity. As for the objection, how these characters could be traditionally kept up notwithstanding a suspension of all theatrical amusements for many centuries together, a sufficient answer may be found in the yearly licences of the carnival, and the fools-holidays of the middle ages.
The Greek mimes were dialogues written in prose, and not intended for the stage. Those of the Romans were composed in verse, were acted, and often delivered extempore. The most famous authors in this department were Laberius and Syrus, contemporaries of Julius Cæsar. He, as dictator, by his courtly request compelled Laberius, a Roman knight, to exhibit himself publicly in his mimes, though the scenic profession was branded with the loss of civil rights. Laberius made his complaint of this in a prologue which is still extant, and in which the painful feeling of annihilated self-respect is nobly and touchingly expressed. It is not easy to conceive how in such a state of mind he could be capable of cracking ludicrous jokes, and how the audience, with so bitter an example of a despotic act of degradation before their eyes, could find pleasure in them. Cæsar kept his word: he gave Laberius a considerable sum of money, and invested him anew with the equestrian rank, which however could not reinstate him in the opinion of his fellow-citizens. But he took his revenge for the prologue and other allusions', by awarding the prize against Laberius to Syrus, once the slave, and afterwards the freedman and pupil of Laberius in the art of composing mimes. of Syrus's mimes there are still extant a number of sentences, which in matter and terse conciseness of expression deserve to be ranked with Menander's. Some of them even transcend the moral horizon of serious comedy itself, and assume an almost stoic sublimity. How could the transition be effected from vulgar jokes to such sentiments as these? And how could such maxims be at all introduced, without a development of human relations as considerable as that exhibited in the perfect comedy? At all events, they are calculated to give one a very favourable idea of the mimes. Horace indeed speaks disparagingly of Laberius' mimes, considered as works of art, either on account of the arbitrary manner in which they were put together, or their carelessness of execution. Yet this ought not of itself to determine our judgment against them, for this critical poet, for reasons which it is easy to conceive, lays much greater stress upon the diligent use of the file, than upon original boldness and fertility of invention. A single entire mime, which time however has unfortunately denied us, would clear up the matter much better than the confused notices of grammarians, and the conjectures of modern scholars.
1 What an inward humiliation for Cæsar, could he have foreseen, that after a few generations, his successor in the despotism, Nero, out of a lust for self-dishonour, would expose himself repeatedly to infamy in the same manner as he, the first despot, had exposed a Roman of the middle order, not without exciting general indignation !
The regular Comedy of the Romans was mostly palliata, that is, exhibited in the Grecian costume, and representing Grecian manners. This is the case with all the comedies of Plautus and Terence. But they had also a Comoedia togata, so called from the Roman garb, usually worn in it. Afranius is mentioned as the most famous author in this way. Of these comedies we have nothing whatever remaining, and find so few notices on the subject, that we cannot even decide with certainty, whether the togata were original comedies of home growth, or only Grecian comedies recast with Roman manners. The last is more probable, as Afranius lived in the older epoch, when Roman genius had not even begun to stir its wings towards original invention; and yet on the other hand it is not easy to conceive how the Attic comedies could have been adapted, without great violence, to a locality so entirely different. The tenour of Roman life was in general earnest and grave, though in personal intercourse they had no small turn for wit and joviality. The difference of ranks among the Romans had its political boundaries very strongly marked, the wealth of private persons was often almost regal; their women lived much more in society, and played a much more important part there than the Grecian women did ; by virtue of which independence they also took their full share in the profligacy which went handin-hand with exterior refinement. The differences being so essential, an original Roman comedy would be a remarkable phenomenon, and one that would exhibit this sovereign nation in quite a new point of view. That this was not effected in the Comedia Togata, is proved by the indifference with which the ancients express themselves on the subject. Quintilian does not scruple to say, that Latin literature limps worst in Comedy. This is his expression, word for word.
To come to Tragedy; we must remark in the first place, that in Rome, the acting of the borrowed Greek Tragedy was considerably dislocated by the circumstance, that there was no place for the Chorus in the Orchestra, where the principal spectators, the Knights and Senators, had their seats: the Chorus therefore appeared on the stage.
Here then was the very incongruity, which we alleged as an objection to the modern attempts to introduce the Chorus. Other deviations also, scarcely for the better, from the Greek style of acting, were favourably received. At the very first introduction of regular plays, Livius Andronicus, a Greek by birth and Rome's first tragic poet and actor, in his monodies (viz., those lyric parts which were to be sung by a single person and not by the Chorus) separated the song from the mimetic dance, only the latter being left to the actor, while the singing part was performed by a boy stationed beside the flute-player. Among the Greeks in their better times, both the tragic song and the rhythmical gesticulation which accompanied it were certainly so simple, that a single individual might do ample justice to both. But the Romans, it seems, preferred isolated excellence to harmonious union. Hence, at a later period, their avidity for the pantomimes, which attained to great perfection in the times of Augustus. To judge from the names of the most famous performers in this kind, e.g. Pylades and Bathyllus, it was by Greeks that this dumb eloquence was exercised in Rome, and the lyric parts, which were expressed by their gesticulative dance, were delivered in Greek. Lastly, Roscius, and probably not he alone, frequently played without a mask: of which procedure there never was an instance, so far as we know, among the Greeks. It might further the display of his art; and here again, the satisfaction which this gave the Romans proves, that they had more taste for the disproportionately conspicuous talent of a virtuoso, than for the harmonious impression of a work of art considered as a whole.
In the Tragic Literature of the Romans, two epochs may be distinguished; the older epoch of Livius Andronicus, Nævius, Ennius, also of Pacuvius and Attius, both which last flourished
Early Tragedians-Tragedians of Augustan Age.
awhile later than Plautus and Terence; and the polished epoch of the Augustan age. The former produced none but translators and remodellers of Greek works, yet probably succeeded better and with more fidelity in the tragic than in the comic department. Sublimity of expression is apt to turn out somewhat awkwardly in an untutored language; it may be reached, however, by an effort; but to hit off the careless gracefulness of social wit requires natural humour and fine cultivation. We do not possess (any more than in the case of Plautus and Terence) even a fragment of a version from an extant Greek original, to help us to a judgment of the accuracy and general success of the copy; but a speech of some length from Attius' Prometheus Unbound is nowise unworthy of Æschylus; its metre' also is much more careful than that of the Latin comedians usually is. This earlier style was brought to great perfection by Pacuvius and Attius, whose pieces seem to have stood their ground alone on the tragic stage in Cicero's times and even later, and to have had many admirers. Horace directs his jealous criticism against these, as he does against all the other more ancient poets.
The contemporaries of Augustus made it their ambition to compete with the Greeks in a more original manner; not with equal success, however, in all departments. The rage for attempts at tragedy was particularly great; works of this kind by the Emperor himself are mentioned. There is therefore much to favour the conjecture, that Horace wrote his epistle to the Pisos, principally with a view of deterring these young men, who, perhaps without any true call to such a task, were bitten by the mania of the day, from so critical an undertaking. One of the chief tragedians of this age was the famous Asinius Pollio, a man of a violently impassioned character, as Pliny says, and who was partial to the same character in works of fine art. He it was who brought with him from Rhodes and set up in Rome the well-known group of the Farnese Bull. If his tragedies bore but about the same relation to those of Sophocles,
? But in what metres may we suppose these tragedians to have translated the Greek Choral Odes? Pindar's lyric metres, which have so much resemblance to the tragic, Horace declares to be inimitable in Latin. Probably the labyrinthine structure of the Choral Strophes was never attempted : indeed neither Roman language nor Roman ears were calculated for it. Seneca's tragedies never take a higher flight from the anapæsts, than to a Sapphic or choriambic verse, the monotonous reiteration of which is very disagreeable.